Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump groups met in the streets in Berkeley, California Saturday, descending into violence that swept across social media. 21 people were arrested during the confrontation that was billed as a “free speech” Patriots Day rally — described as more of a white supremacist rally to some in attendance — and the third time similar groups had clashed in Berkeley in recent months according to the LA Times. It was a separate event from the many Tax Day protests that peacefully happened in several other cities across the country.
highly trained militants from both the far-left and far-right engaging in very serious and intense street fighting in berkeley today pic.twitter.com/LRfPnDlYWf
— New York Year Zero (@newyorkyearzero) April 16, 2017
According to Buzzfeed News, 200-300 people were estimated to be involved in the demonstrations and initially gathered in a local city park area before spilling into the streets of downtown. 11 were injured in the numerous scuffles that broke out, many of which were captured overheard by television cameras or broadcast live on Periscope and social media. Some reporters on the ground noted a lack of police presence at the event, explained by the modest size of the Berkeley police department according to Buzzfeed:
“The City of Berkeley Police Department is a small to medium-size department,” he said. “Our police department total is 176. I can tell you most of that 176 is here today.”
With no official communication between the city and protesters, officers were forced to estimate how many demonstrators would show up, [Berkeley Police Officer Byron White] said.
“The amount of people at the park for the demonstration was in the hundreds,” he said. “It’s a challenge for us to keep that amount of demonstrators inside that area with the amount of people we had. It would require another level of force for us to do that.”
The LA Times adds that Berkeley police requested assistance from the nearby Oakland police department, placing at least 200 police officers on the ground by late afternoon.
As noted above, police had no formal communication with either protest and were forced to follow social media postings. Several posts promoting and planning the event were posted to Facebook and Twitter, with many involved showing up expecting violence. Demonstrators on both sides wore helmets or held shields and several can be seen in photographs holding sticks, pipes, and pepper spray. Police had reportedly banned several items, including baseball bats and pipes according to Buzzfeed, with police adding that several also released gas and fireworks during skirmishes at the protest while several knives and stun guns were confiscated according to the LA Times.
Those in attendance seemed to represent a mixed bag on both sides. Anti-fascist protesters mixed with those opposing Trump supporters, while the pro-Trump side was mixed with apparent white supremacists, bikers, and members of the Oathkeepers group of Montana:
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers, said he came from Montana with about 50 others to protect Trump supporters. They were joined by bikers and others who vowed to fight members of an anti-fascist group if they crossed police barricades.
“I don’t mind hitting” the counter-demonstrators, Rhodes said. “In fact, I would kind of enjoy it.”
What’s clear from the reports on the ground is that the crowds were diverse, and the fighting was relegated to smaller groups that seemed to break off from the main pack. Some in attendance weren’t interested in clashing at all, with a few traveling to protest while creating a dialogue and at least one vendor showing up to sell organic produce:
Brenna Lundy, 28, said she drove from San Francisco to attend what she thought was an organizing event against the alt-right. As the violence unfolded, she stayed and attempted to talk to some of the people shouting insults at her.
“So I genuinely wanted to talk. I am trying to talk to you,” Lundy said to a woman screaming at her that “Obama hates blacks.”
Another woman from the pro-Trump side came up to Lundy and, putting a hand to her ear, said, “Ask her why she hates white people.”
Lundy looked confused. She gave up and turned away.
“This is more of a riot,” she said.
One of the more shocking moments of the protest that swirled social media involved a moment when an alleged white supremacist was captured on camera punching a female protestor. The incident was part of a larger clash between Trump supporters and those in opposition, with the full video showing several people being stomped and beaten as a group moves down the street.
Here’s The Full Vid for Those Asking (Around 18 Secs In) pic.twitter.com/Vpru3CoLkO
— Battle Beagle (@HarmlessYardDog) April 15, 2017
The man punching the female protestor is allegedly Nathan Damigo, a Cal State Stanislaus and former Marine corporal who is also a noted white supremacist according to the LA Times. Damigo is seen several times in photographs from the event and was reportedly identified as the man in the video by several witnesses on the scene, according to Raw Story. An LA Times profile claims the Identity Europa founder credits his time in prison for armed robbery with nurturing his interests:
“Because you have nothing but time to think in prison, that’s when I finally started looking at the more intellectual roots and started researching books and literature on race and identity,” he said.
He was greatly influenced, he said, by “My Awakening,” the book by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and by racial provocateurs J. Philippe Rushton and Nicholas Wade.
He came out of prison with a belief that there is a genetic basis for certain behaviors and intellect, distinguished by race — that a black person is more likely than a white person to be less intelligent and more violent, for example.
According to the LA Times, California has been home to the largest skinhead population in the nation and has seen a rise in white supremacist gatherings. This includes Camp Comradery, a gathering that the Times and the California Anti-Defamation League describes as “unique collaboration between so-called “intellectual racists” and racist skinheads.”
While many are still making sense of what happened in Berkeley on Saturday, the event stands in stark contrast to the separate Tax Day marches from around the nation. If anything, it seems that violence was the main focus for many in attendance at the Berkley rally, and any real message or support was an afterthought. Typically you don’t bring sticks and pepper spray to change hearts and minds. If anything, this will likely not be the last time we see violence like this.
— David Mack (@davidmackau) April 15, 2017